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Blood of Winterhold

Blood plays a key role in the lives of the people who inhabit the plant locked in perpetual winter. A young novice Interpreter is brought from the far North to the Hold by the Queen's own bodyguard. She takes a special interest in his welfare and his future. The Queen sees him only as one more despised Interpreter to force her through her daily round of stifling Rituals. He becomes enmeshed in the violent political and social battles which riddle the Hold. Revolutionaries try to tear apart the ancient social fabric, while the aristocracy attempts to preserve it. And the Interpreters use both factions to further their own ends. When he finds out the truth concerning his birth, he must struggle even more to free himself from the meshes of both Hold and Camp. After a furious battle between the revolutionaries and the aristocracy, he leaves the Hold for the Waste. He flees both to preserve his life and to discover just who he is and what he must do. Blood determines his heritage, and he must struggle against the shadow it casts over his life.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

Stephen Almekinder

Stephen Almekinder has a variety of experience as a writer. He received a finalist certificate from the Writers of the Future Contest for one of his short stories. He wrote a radio play, which was produced and aired. He adapted the science fiction novel Nova, by Samuel R. Delany, into a screenplay with the permission of the author. One of his short stories was published in a science fiction/fantasy magazine, Once Upon A World, in 1997. Winterhold, Blood of Winterhold, and Lost Empire of Winterhold have been published by Hard Shell Word Factory. Winterhold was a finalist for an Eppie, an award given out by the EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) group, while Blood of Winterhold was nominated for the Frankfurt eBook Award. Hard Shell Word Factory has also published Backyardia, a fantasy novel for young adults. And it is safe to say that the Winterhold series is not yet finished.


4 Stars

"The action in Blood of Winterhold is virtually non-stop. Take the normal court intrigue multiplied by two and add the hostile relations between king and queen and there is never a moment to let down one's guard. A dash of poison, a stab of blade, or maybe a shushed bundling off to a cell that no one knows about, and an enemy or innocent can disappear with hardly a question asked. A third Winterhold book is on its way. Don't let my tardiness set you behind on the cycle; you'll want to be ready to read that next volume as soon as its available. Of course, you could wait until one of the big commercial publishers wises up and grabs the whole trilogy for an omnibus, but don't you like to be ahead of the wave? Read it now and be one of those people who knew it back when."

Lisa DuMond -- www.sfreader.com

"Stephen Almekinder has done it again with Blood of Winterhold, the second in his Winterhold series of books. This book is even better than the original (Winterhold) although it's set in the same frigid planet environment. Blood of Winterhold, like the first book, is filled with political intrigue. For readers of Robert Heinlien's Stranger in a Strange Land, in this second novel Almekinder depicts a virtuous man, thrust into the center of a malicious, scheming political system and its resulting conflict (by contrast, Stranger in a Strange Land presented the opposite--a flawed human in a perfect loving society). Blood of Winterhold is also filled with class conflict and revolution. The lower class and the classless are gathering in revolt against the King of the Camp and the Queen of the Hold (Winterhold has a divided government). Almekinder meticulously details both the cause and the organization of this revolution. Trys, a product of the Wasteland where honor and values are the coin of the realm, finds himself in the midst of this dramatic upheaval. Winterhold and Blood of Winterhold are complete stories, yet related to one another. Both are a must read for fantasy fans. Both volumes are not only exciting and fast-paced, they are excellent literature, teaching us much about the human condition."

Elaine Hopper -- Knowbetter.com

Chapter 1

He spiraled out of the trance and his fingers spiraled up the familiar curve of the prayer horn. He passed through one layer. His thumb and forefinger caressed the S shaped curve which represented eternity. He emerged from another layer. The tight button of truth slid beneath his ring finger and little finger. He broke through the last layer and his palm brushed the symbols of beauty and despair and love in rapid succession.

The prayer horn slipped from his hands and settled between his crossed legs. He opened his eyes, but just barely. The sun off the endless snow slashed through the slits, fuzzed by his eyelashes. As a matter of discipline, he did not close his eyes but held them half open. The cold burning light filled his eyes and seemed to penetrate deeper and deeper into his skull. He let it dig in.

Even as the hard edge of the light off the Waste drove a wedge up into his sight, he became acutely aware of the uneven surface of the frozen snow beneath him. It tilted him to one side and he discovered the muscles on the left side of his body were pulled taut to keep him from tipping over. He shifted his buttocks, which only served to reveal a new set of ridges in the snow beneath him. He forced himself to sit still in the new position.

The conspiracy of sensations was completed by the dead weight of his breather mask tugging at his neck. He had pulled it down and off his face just before he entered the trance. He needed to breathe unimpeded and, since he was in a shallow cave out of the wind, he did not need to circulate the frigid air through the baffles of the breather mask to keep his lungs from icing over.

Trys myr Lyn pyr Drun sat in a cave in the Northern Range and faced south. Using the techniques learned from his training to be an Interpreter of the Caynruhl clan, he had entered his trance in an attempt to lay to rest some of the doubts which had plagued him of late. The breaking of the trance by what he considered to be minor irritations only intensified the doubts. All of his life he had wanted to be an Interpreter; one who read, comprehended, and interpreted the words of the Chronicles of Blood through the Rituals, and by means of ceremonies helped to fulfill the spiritual aspirations of his clan. But was he meant to be an Interpreter? His fingers were numb from rubbing his prayer horn over and over in an attempt to answer that one question.

Maintaining his uncomfortable position and forcing his eyes to endure the wedge of bright light, he fumbled in his lap for the prayer horn. It was his favorite one. The carved bryl antler was etched with a series of symbols which were meaningful to both eye and finger. Arranged in a spiral about the horn, they aided the worshipper to flow up one side and down the other in an infinite loop of meaning embedded in sensation.

He touched the finely worn circle of peace and was prepared to glissade up and around the spiritually sensual series of symbols when a sound reached him which once again wrenched him back to the physical world before him. It was the soft crunch of a cautiously placed boot, followed by a dry hiss as the granular snow filled in the cavity around the boot. It was a common enough sound, but never had he heard it so distinctly. His thumb pressed the circle of peace deep into his forefinger. He had to look. He had to open his eyes fully to the world just beyond his rigidly held lids. He used the old Waste trick of slitting open first one eye, adjusting to the glare, and then bringing the other into play.

Below his cave lay a steep and narrow gully. It widened out at the base of the hill and the ridges on either side of it blended slowly into the snow of the Waste. They formed a pocket which was protected from the direct blast of the Waste wind. The inner sides of the ridges were comprised of lichen covered rocks, prime feeding for the bryl, while the configuration of the pocket resulted in a deep cushion of softly drifted snow, perfect hunting conditions for the predator. In this case, the herd of bryl was small, seven animals in all, and the predator was man.

Scramble and pause. A scarf of snow blew from the top of a drift, wrapped about the intent hunter, broke and blew away. Scramble and pause. It was the ancient hunting technique of approaching prey. Vary the pattern and catch the creature off guard. Do not stay too long in one position and do not move too quickly. Scramble and pause. It was slow and painful for both hunter and hunted. But it worked.

With eyes wide open now, Trys watched the hunt. The hunter was faceless behind his breather mask. His hood was up and his singlesuit tightly laced to provide him with the maximum protection from the bitter cold and the sharp ice. He was the anonymous personification of the hunter. And after one final pause, he dashed forward to fulfill his task.

The bryl closest to him leaped straight up, twisted in midair, and hit the snow running. But the soft powder slid beneath its hooves and slowed it down. The hunter lunged forward in an attempt to get in a clean thrust with his light hunting spear. Despite the awkward start, the bryl seemed to be darting out of range as it followed its comrades toward the mouth of the gully and the safety of the Waste beyond. The chase took on a sense of suspension as both pursued and pursuer matched their speeds for the briefest of seconds.

A second spear darted in from the side of the bryl and plunged cleanly through its heart to dissolve the suspension. A second hunter had lain buried in a snow drift near the mouth of the gully. His rise and throw coincided perfectly with the actions of the first hunter. Trys blinked. Even from his vantage point, he had not noticed the second hunter. The maneuver required the two hunters to work in absolute harmony. There was no room for thought, for that would only slow one down. It was all done by reflex and instinct developed over years of hunting together.

The hunters lost no time in securing their kill in the traditional manner. The one who had delivered the killing blow, yanked his glove off his right hand, grasped the haft of his spear with his bare hand, and jerked it free from the body of the bryl. The creature twitched and lay still. The hunter held up his spear and let the blood fully coat the blood metal which formed the spearhead and sheathed half of the spear shaft. The blood metal was heating up. Whenever the metal came in contact with blood, it took the heat from it and magnified it. In the frigid climate which held the entire planet in its grasp, blood metal allowed life to emerge from death. When the man was satisfied that the metal was completely coated, he tipped the point over his shoulder and slid it firmly into its back sheath where the warming metal lay close to his body and would provide him with the precious commodity for hours to come.

He then dipped his hand into the blood which poured from the steaming wound. He first scattered a few drops in an arc upon the snow and then up toward the sky to propitiate Mother Ice and Father Sun. The hunter watched as the drops of deep red blood arced up and out to lay down a trail of pink dots across the snow. And the trail led his eyes up toward the shallow cave where Trys still sat. In a glance he saw and recognized the man on the hillside. He waved and the way in which he twisted his open palm revealed to Trys who he was. He was his younger brother, Gyrs myr Lyn pyr Drun.

The snout of his breather mask dipped toward the other hunter and he spoke one muffled word. The other nodded but did not pause in his task of sewing up the death wound of the bryl. The preservation of blood was the preservation of heat, the commodity most valued in the eternal winter which reigned upon the surface of the planet. The man bent over the bryl, slid the head of his own spear into the blood which soaked the tightly napped fur, and then laid it aside as he set to work on the body. He worked deftly. In a matter of seconds he gave a final tug on the gut string, taken from another bryl some time before, and he was finished. He stood up briskly enough but with a definite catch in the motion of rising. Trys knew that he was his father, Drun pyr Khun myr Jynth.

His father straightened and then arched his back. Like the catch in his stance as he rose, Trys realized that the gesture was uniquely his father's, but that both were performed with more stiffness than Trys ever remembered having seen before. Drun slid his breather mask down to hang about his neck. He glanced up at Trys where he sat. He smiled. His appearance at that moment made Trys wonder when he had gotten so old. Years of squinting against the glare of the sun off the ice, he was notorious for not using goggles to protect his eyes, had deeply lined his face. His nearly closed eyes pulled the rest of the skin on his face toward the two sockets, making the lines more expressive than any of his other features. Like the stiffness in his movements, Trys could not recall noticing the lines on his face and connecting them with the onset of old age.

Drun turned then to help his other son to truss up the bryl to prepare it for the walk back to the clan caves. Trys shook his head once to clear it of the vestiges of the trance and to express to himself his sudden awareness of the age of his father. He had known but not recognized it. A fine Interpreter I will be, he thought. I do not even notice things about those I see every day.

He then scrambled to his feet and tucked the prayer horn into the belt of his singlesuit. Not bothering to slide his breather mask into place, he secured the hem of his Waste cloak to his belt to give his legs freedom of movement and stepped out of his cave. He had used the cave for meditation many times before and he knew the face of the cliff below it well. He dropped lightly from ledge to ledge and slid the last few yards to the floor of the gully, keeping his balance all the way.

His brother rose and looked down on his father who was tightening the last knot on the carrying harness which held the body of the bryl. Gyrs turned to Trys as he strode up and tugged down his own breather mask.

"Well, big brother, finished communing with the gods?" He grinned as he said it, but the usual hint of sarcasm was also detectable. Gyrs respected his brother but was too aware of being the younger one.

Drun glanced up at Gyrs. He looked as if he was about to reprimand him. Instead, he swung up and turned to Trys. "Did we disturb you?"

"No. I had finished. And believe me, Gyrs, I was not communing with gods or anything else. Unless you count the ice I was sitting on or the cold wind in my face. It was not one of my better meditations."

"Too bad. We, on the other hand, had a very good hunt as you can see."

"Yes. In fact, I saw the whole thing. Very neatly done. You two work together brilliantly."

Gyrs snorted at the compliment but was genuinely pleased with the praise from his brother.

Drun nodded. "Your brother has the speed and energy of youth. His reputation in the clan for his skills with both hunting spear and blood blade is deserved. Patience will come with time."

"I timed my thrust perfectly."

"I was not faulting you. You did wait until just the right moment. There have been times when the kill was not so neatly done."

Gyrs nodded agreement. His impetuosity on previous occasions had caused him to waste more blood than was thought proper by a hunter like his father who was versed in the old ways. He also recognized the tempered praise implicit in his father's statement.

"Father is always the perfectionist. Maybe that's where you get it from Trys."


"You got the brains and I got the strength and reflexes. A fair distribution, the way I look at it." Gyrs grinned just a bit too widely to be convincing. He was never certain which son his father liked best and for Gyrs it was always a question of who was the best. He weighed a compliment like a skilled hunter weighed his throwing spear, testing it for heft and power.

Trys did not take up his brother's challenge. The soured meditation had left him feeling restless and unfocussed. Instead, he chose to agree with Gyrs since he knew that even shallow flattery usually deflected his brother's escalating competitive spirit. "Yes, I'm sure it is. I was never as good as you with the blade or the spear. I kept too close to the Rituals for that."

Drun grunted and shook his head. "You are both my sons. I always try to treat you as equals. You, Gyrs, are very good with your hands but you also have an excellent mind. If you did not you would not be as quick and sure as you are on the hunt or in battle. And you, Trys, did keep close to the Rituals, as you put it, and I did not discourage that. It was what you wanted and what you are good at. You do have skill with the blade even though you hide it. You believe an Interpreter does not need such a skill. Well, you are mistaken in that."

"I know, father. I did not mean to sound ungrateful."

"We can't stand here all day and talk. We must get this bryl back to the clan and dress it properly. You are finished, Trys. Come back with us." His father spoke abruptly but his command was couched in a gentle tone of voice.

"Of course. I've finished for today."

Gyrs opened his mouth to make another biting comment but shut it when he saw his father's face. He would brook no more barbs. Instead, Gyrs yanked his breather mask up onto his face, tugged the hood of his singlesuit over his head, and grabbed one end of the trussed bryl. He remained poised over the carcass, waiting for someone else to take up the other end. Trys recognized the gesture. He pulled up his own breather mask, meticulously settled it in place, and then slowly tied his hood, taking care to prolong the process to aggravate his brother.

Gyrs jerked on the back legs of the bryl as Trys tried to secure his grip on the front legs. The two glanced up and even through the narrow slits of their masks, they could tell the sparring had gone far enough. Trys nodded to his brother. The snout of Gyrs's mask dipped in acknowledgement. They might compete but they still loved and trusted one another.

"Let's go." Drun slid his bloodied spear into his back sheath. He pulled his shoulders blades back as if to cup the rod of warmth which settled between them.

With long resilient strides, Drun led the way back up the gully. Trys settled his share of the weight of the dead bryl upon his shoulder and set out after his father. Instinctively, he matched his stride to his father's and Gyrs followed suit. The carcass required that they match their pace and they swung into the familiar pattern.

The crunch of boots upon snow filled the space between the narrowing sides of the gully. Drun bent slightly as he attacked the steeper angle of the gully and his ankles twisted to plant as much of the wide soles of his boots upon the snow as he could to give him traction for the climb. The low spikes upon his boot soles bit cleanly into the hardened snow and his legs pulled him steadily up the slope. Trys ducked his head and followed his father. He watched for the spike holes and placed his own feet squarely within their outline, in that way his father broke trail for him and made his own climb somewhat easier.

Drun topped the slope and without pausing set out along the narrow ridge which ran up to join the rising foothills of the Northern Range. In his turn Trys reached the top and swung onto the trail broken by his father. He spared a quick glance backward as he felt Gyrs scramble to the same level and shift the weight on his shoulder. Gyrs sketched a salute and bobbed his breather mask to indicate to his brother he was doing just fine. Trys raised his own hand and set out in earnest after his father who was moving slowly but steadily up the narrow ridge.

To either side, the snow sloped away gently when compared to the jagged thrusts of ice and rock above them. The Northern Range surged abruptly from the Waste and soared to close to one thousand feet in its initial elevation. Range built upon range to take the upper peaks thousands of feet high until the tops were lost in the frequent blizzards which roared through the atmosphere.

The facade of the Range was a study in contrasts between the pure white of the ice and snow and the deep black of the obsidian rock. Trys looked up to see the curved back of his father silhouetted against the towering piles of stone and ice. It was a sight which Trys loved but also respected. The mountains and the Waste were his home. Vertical grandeur and horizontal immensity, neither could be taken for granted for a moment, for that was the moment in which they could take your life.

The three negotiated the slope of the ridge with ease and paused as they reached the lowest tier of the Range. Here the snow, which had provided relatively secure footing, gave way to ice slicked rock. Drun unwound a length of rope from about his waist, secured one end to the harness on his singlesuit which secured his weapons, and passed the other end back to Trys. Trys balanced the stiffened leg of the bryl on his shoulder to free both his hands and with a few deft movements tightly knotted the rope about his own harness. The free end then went back to Gyrs who performed the same operation. The three were then prepared to ascend the slopes above them with some sense of security. If one fell the others knew how to break that fall and prevent themselves from following.

The wind died down and Drun slid up his breather mask to test the temperature. The light from the afternoon sun fell full upon the slopes they had to climb and warmed the air to a bearable level. He snorted and pushed his mask up on his head to free his face from the close embrace. Trys followed suit. The air bit deep but cleanly into his lungs. There was no chance of its freezing them. In the Waste the breather mask was the only reliable barrier between the subzero air and the warm and delicate lining of the lungs. Lose the integrity of the mask or remove it entirely and the lungs could be frozen in a matter of minutes.

Trys looked at the landscape which vaulted far overhead and stretched away beneath him. Winterhold was harsh. Relax your guard for a moment and it would take advantage of that weakness to break or kill. Winterhold was beautiful. The harshness which killed also allowed for a type of life which filled the senses to the brim and even over. Follow the rules and you survived. Disobey or even mock them and you had to suffer the consequences. There was little room for compromise. Those were the simple yet inexorable rules.